The Driver Improvement Program
A judge may offer you the chance to have your traffic ticket reduced, or even dismissed, if you will take a driver improvement class (sometimes referred to as a DIP course). The judge will consider a few different factors when making this decision, including your prior driving record, the violation you were charged with, and whether you have already taken a driver improvement class in recent years.
I strongly recommend calling an attorney before you sign up to take a class. Each court has its own approach to the driver improvement class, and knowing the system can mean the difference between a dismissal and a conviction. After a short discussion, we can tell you if the class will work for you, and if so, the specific requirements of the court you were charged in.
When to take the class
Timing is important. There are two ways to take the class: voluntarily or court ordered. Virginia law allows you to take the class voluntarily for point credit on your record, even if you haven't received a ticket. Alternatively, if you have received a ticket, Virginia Code § 46.2-505 allows a judge to reduce or dismiss a ticket after a driver takes the class. Taking the class this way (court-ordered) typically avoids points being counted against your record, but usually you will not receive the point credit that comes from taking the class voluntarily.
If you take the class before coming to court, you run the risk of the class being classified as "voluntary" (so you receive a point credit), and some judges will not reduce or dismiss your charge if you've recently taken the class voluntarily.
Most judges in this area will not offer the driver improvement class to reduce or dismiss a ticket if you've taken the class within the last ten years. This number varies from court to court and judge to judge, though. I have seen a few judges allow drivers to take the class again after as few as two years, but that is the exception. Most judges only allow it every ten years.
While this varies from court to court, if a judge does offer the option of taking the class, most local courts require that the class be completed (and the certificate of completion received by the court) within 90 days. Some courts have 30 or 60 day requirements, and a few courts require instead that it be completed within six months. Additionally, some courts require that the driver keep a clean record (no new traffic violations) during the time provided to take the class.
Where to take the class
In this part of Virginia, with very few exceptions, drivers must always complete the class in person, meaning a classroom setting. This excludes online and video classes.
While the class must be taken in person, it does not need to be taken in Virginia. Typically we are able to find appropriate classes all over the country, usually within a fairly short drive.
Almost every local court has the following requirements for the course:
- The class must be taken in-person (but it does not need to be a behind-the-wheel class)
- The class must be 8-hours long (although this requirement is often relaxed to accept 6-hour courses)
- The class must be offered by a reputable provider; either something approved by a state DMV, or from a known organization (for example, the National Safety Council, AAA, or AARP).
- While not specifically related to the court, in Virginia, the class typically costs $75 or less
The advantage of taking the class court-ordered instead of voluntarily
In most cases, taking the driver improvement class as a court-ordered class (meaning the judge instructed you to take it) is a much better alternative than just paying your ticket and then taking the class voluntarily to offset the points.
When you pre-pay a ticket, that is considered a guilty plea, and it results in a conviction. That conviction becomes part of your driving record and your insurance company can use that conviction to raise your insurance rates.
Alternatively, if you complete the class after a judge instructs you (or your attorney) to take the class, the charge is dismissed or reduced, so the original charge never goes on your driving record. Consequently, your insurance company does not raise your rates.
You can read more about points (both insurance and driving record points) at this page.
Commercial drivers are typically not allowed to take the court-ordered class for a reduction or dismissal (see this page for more information), but there are a few special circumstances in which it will help. Virginia law specifies that CDL drivers should take a special driver improvement class which is specific to commercial drivers.